By John Dentinger


My friends in college and in my white middle class high school all did pot and acid and speed. At age 19 I did acid for the first time (it was a bad trip, which turned me off drugs for almost a decade).

From age 28 on I began experimenting with drugs again. I used pot a number of times. Then in the early '80's it was MDA ("the love drug"). When this became unavailable I started using crystal (methedrine). It was a lot like cocaine, As time went on, I got a source for MDMA ("Ecstasy" -- or X for short; I got to be on a first name basis with it), and later had two sources.

Around this time I interviewed '60's drug guru Timothy Leary. When we talked, I fished for rationalizations for taking acid (psychotherapeutic insights, medical benefits, etc.), and he patiently answered my beside-the-point questions. I scrutinized his eyes, probing for some vacant look from thirty years of acid-head brain damage. I saw nothing of the sort. Maybe it's just his Irish genes, but if acid kept him so young and alert even with smoking, I figured I'd give the stuff another try. I developed two or three sources of acid.

When one of my sources of X dried up, I became his connection. I sold him wholesale what I used to buy from him retail. Because the risks of wholesaling are dramatically less than retailing, I thought of myself not as a dealer but as a (low- level) supplier, with only one major customer.

Drugs are like sex. You don't hear much honest talk about it.

It is customary in our society to obtain information about a subject from those with experience of it. If you want to know how to solve differential equations, you ask someone who has worked with them. If you want to know about a make of car, you ask people who drive them.

But when the subject is taboo, the reverse rules apply. Studied ignorance is what we expect from our " experts," and we get exactly that. In Juden-frie Nazi Germany, experts on Judaism were not rabbis or practicing Jews; they were Nazis or academic Jew-haters. If we wanted information on homosexuality -- in Nazi Germany, in Stalin's U.S.S.R., in post WWII America -- we would not ask gay people. We would go to academic fag-haters known as the American Psychiatric Association, who until 1973 decreed homosexuals to be insane.

And nowadays, all of our drug "experts" are the pharmacolog- ical equivalents of Nazi "experts" on Jews. The "liberals" among them love the sinner and hate the sin. The hardliners among them are unabashedly happy to see the lives of drug users destroyed by the state. In both cases, the experts must have or at least pretend to an utter lack of personal experience with drugs -- i.e., a near total ignorance of their supposed expertise. There are two slight exceptions: drug use during an errant youth, long since repented and turned away from; or, drug experiences so awful that their recounting can be used to terrify the next generation of potential drug users. In a rational society, the expert's consistently horrible experiences would be evidence of his incompetent use of drugs. We would view him like an anti-automobile expert who detailed his innumerable accidents: we would say, "Get off the road, Jack."

The anti-drugs expert is in the position of a doctor who has autopsied the frozen bodies recovered from Captain Scott's ill- fated Arctic expedition. He says, "Look, their risk-taking killed them. No one should be allowed to explore the Arctic ever again." But it was their free choice. One of the last entries in Captain Scott's diary read, "I do not regret the journey; we took risks, we knew we took them, things have come out against us, therefore we have no cause for complaint." Users of new drugs are likewise exploring a frontier, and may well feel as Scott did. Wouldn't we all get a more balanced picture if we interviewed more explorers and fewer well-paid desk-bound "experts"?

When I first wrote the above in 1989, I was cowed by the rules I have just described. I felt that I gained rather than lost credibility by describing my bad acid trip, and I left all further personal discussion out.

Now I feel that reticence was misleading or downright dishonest. I have had more drug experiences, and almost all of them have been overwhelmingly favorable. If you require citation of medical or psychotherapeutic benefits, rather than merely hedonic ones, here they are.

After my second acid trip, all of my allergies disappeared for a year. Normally I suffer from hay fever and horrible cat and dog allergies. During this period, I was able to dispense completely with allergy shots, antihistamine pills, nasal decongestant sprays -- the works. So who was using more drugs: the acid user, or the allergy sufferer?

After my third or fourth acid trip, I experienced a rapprochement with my long-estranged family, which would perhaps never have occurred without it. Far more has been risked in other areas of my life for less benefit than this.

Yet all you hear about drugs users and drug dealers are stereotypes. One of the main ones has users and dealers always getting beaten up, knocked around or shot at. To the extent that they are -- just as with all the other stereotypes -- it's not a matter of dealer vs. non-dealer -- it's a matter of lower class vs. middle class.

In my limited area of drug trafficking, I didn't deal with any Miami Vice-style gun totin' dirtbags. I dealt with middle- class people like myself. One of my dealers was a stockbroker. All of them were friends; we did things friends do, like exchanging recommendations on restaurants, recalling personal anecdotes, getting homegrown tomatoes from the backyard, giving them copies of my Playboy articles blasting the drug war. I even borrowed books from one of them (including "Wired," the story of John Belushi destroying himself with drugs) -- and I returned the books. It was all very normal; it was friendlier and safer than shopping in an all-night convenience store.

You're a lot more likely to get mugged going into a 7-Eleven in Compton than going into a client's bungalow at the Beverly Hills Hotel. So if you want drama in any area of life -- crossing the street, say -- move into a slum. You'll get drama.

Along with stereotypes about drugs come the taboos. Leary stuck his finger in the eye of one of them in a Playboy interview , where he stated acid was fabulous for sex. Robert Anton Wilson (a former Playboy Forum editor) makes the same point in more detail in his book, Sex and Drugs. Words cannot express how they understated the case.

One reason is that the words which might have expressed it have been outlawed. When I interviewed Leary, I didn't know I was showing my ignorance of the incommensurability of "reality" with tripping. This is especially true in our culture, which suppresses the vernacular that could be used to socialize the experience.

The lack of language regarding our internal states forces communication down to a crude level: the doctor asks, "Is the pain dull? Localized? Pins-and-needles?" -- like a police artist displaying a series of drawings of proboscis and saying, "Did he have a nose like this? Or like this? Or like this?" Speech about drugs has been sabotaged. Consider how Leary, a hotshot young psychologist, was forced out of Harvard because of his controversial psychedelic experiments, and later forced to flee the land of the free, an international fugitive. Consider what happened only last year to Stuart Regis, the award-winning Stanford computer science instructor who got canned for speaking honestly about his favorable experiences with MDA.

Someday society will come to the last resort. It will drop its hysteria on sex and drugs, and listen to reason on these subjects. The words of the experienced will be calmly weighed beside the hysterical pronouncements of "experts" facing unemployment. People will be able to speak, as I just have, without being destroyed like Timothy Leary or Stuart Regis; we will be able to speak without even losing credibility. Perhaps I have lost credibility -- but if it speeds our culture's return to reason -- than that credibility could not have been better spent.


I was probably exposed to AIDS as early as 1981, when the best information available was 'none'. At the time that I contracted AIDS promiscuous sex was thought to risk little that couldn't be patched up with a little penicillin. Nevertheless, AIDS brings up the whole issue of risk-taking.

People who engage in unpopular and potentially dangerous activities -- recreational drug use, promiscuous sex, even driving without a seatbelt -- are denounced by the majority as irra- tionally courting danger. If they are injured, they get little sympathy.

Risk-taking in popular activities is not held in contempt, however. If a sports figure is sidelined after an injury in play -- a common enough event -- no one says, "That dummy shouldn't have done something as dangerous as playing football." When someone is injured by a machine on the job, people don't say, "He should have gotten an office job." When a commuter suffers a car crash during his thirty-mile one-way trip on the freeway, no one says: "Why didn't he cut down that risk by living closer to where he worked?" Even Evel Kneivel's breathtaking recklessness never generated actual animosity, as does disapproved sex or drug use.

Everyone in every area of life balances risk against rewards. The risk might turn out to be greater than originally estimated, but this doesn't affect the reasonableness of the conduct based on that estimate. You buy a new car, unaware that the model suffers intermittent sudden accelerations. When an accident happens, no one berates you for being irrational enough to buy such a car.

Yet in the media, among the medical profession and in popular opinion, those with AIDS seem to be blamed for their disease and treated with contempt. At this point, rebelling against such treatment was second nature.

I felt hideously sick on Christmas 1991. The doctor on call, Dr. S., prescribed oral Tigan and Megace for nausea. I knew neither prescription would work, but you can't tell that to the doctor. That gets you nowhere.

Part of the problem may have been that Dr. S. was a woman, with the natural insecurity of a female in a male dominated field. Women feel they have to butch it up, wear those shoulder pads, Assert Their Authority, Take No Crap From The God-Damned Customer because They Are The Highly Trained Experts. The Dentinger Hydraulic Law of Compensating Differences, a corollary of Acton's Dictum, operates here. Personality is ultimately incompressible, like water (as opposed to gas). So wherever you push in the container of the system in one place, it bulges out in another: every good is offset by a bad, however hidden the latter; and every improvement is offset by some deterioration. Art consists of hiding the latter.

Dr. S. became upset because I medicated myself. I said I would stop, but I continued to do so. I knew confrontation would be pointless, and compliance would be aggravating and painful. So I chose the golden mean. I lied.

Carelessly, while in the clinic, I left out a syringe. When after a half hour of my I.V. backing up (my blood creeping out into the tube), a nurse finally showed up -- at the same time as Dr. S., who became quite upset. I had offended her shaky sense of Godhood. Doctor is God; John has sinned and lied about it and then sinned again. In fact, he was living in sin!

She pointed out the difficulty of sorting out what medications were causing which results, if I supplemented them from home. I agreed, but pointed out that, while I'm not a doctor, I'm not as unintelligent or careless as the average patient.

"If you have any problems with the medications, call me," she insisted.

"You're not always that accessible," I pointed out. Well, she said, I could have her paged, or someone from the office would do something.

(Yeah, sure, I thought. Like Dr. L., whom I refer to as "Doctor 'No,'" because 'No' was what he always said when I asked for some drug. "Dr. K (my personal physician) should be the one to do that," he would say, aware that I would not be able to contact Dr. K for at least twelve suffering hours.)

Then Dr. S. got out the heavy artillery -- not the argument from reason, in which she might be outgunned, but the argument from authority. By medicating myself, she said, I was threatening her license, the nurse's license, the hospital's license. And that she would not tolerate. If they caught me at any sort of autonomous activity again, they would throw me out of the hospital.

On the surface, they would seem to be within their rights to do that. After all, it's a private hospital; they're entitled to do what they want, right?

Let's dig under the surface. Medical licensing, like all occupational licensing, is done not at the behest of consumers, but at the behest of those established in the field. By way of a parallel, imagine that America's Chevy dealers bribed Congress into outlawing Volkswagens. This would allow Chevy dealers to be more high-handed and to hike their prices. The intent and effect of medical licensing laws is exactly the same.

The real reason for medical licensing is: to share less money, power and prestige with would-be fellow practitioners; to keep out the competition, who are labeled "quacks" to justify their exclusion.

Thus physicians and hospitals have used the might of the state to enforce their monopoly. Medicine is no more private than the Post Office -- and Constitutionally no more entitled to be high-handed and discriminatory. Translated into this analysis, what was the calm Dr. S. complaining about? The potential loss of livelihood and the practice of the healing art? Or a refusal to betray the medical clan by taking her foot off a patient's throat? Both, I think.

Please understand: I don't tell these tales to say that I've uniquely suffered from the slings and arrows of outrageous doctors. I'm quite certain that Dr. S. is better than average. That, in fact, is precisely the horror of the Doctor Game.


Writing in the hospital. Drugged, sick, insomniac, thus teetering on the edge of the cliff. My thoughts and short-term memories perched like priceless crystal on traffic-dented stilts -- vulnerable to the monumental derailment and wreck of each successive train of thought.

Well, not monumental.

It was just a paragraph.

But an entire paragraph! A Paragraph Lost, lost somewhere along the short gauntlet between shower (where the paragraph was excitingly, fully narrated in my head), and my hospital room. Too many sights -- and worse! -- too many people to head me off and trip me up and make me drop the paragraph and leave it behind where no one can ever have it.

What spite, what unintended spite. I can't make it all right by changing my standards, by viewing my life only as "private performance art," where the fact that only one spectator (myself) experiences the whole creation. My silenced life -- a trip which can never be recorded for the memories of others. For my tiny bit of immortality -- it's not good enough.

I constantly think: some good must come of this; it can't for me but it will no one gain by it? If only I can live just long enough to get the story out -- to pressure for a better world -- to save at least one soul from gratuitous pain. No, just living and experiencing my own private horror story is not enough. But -- for the lost paragraph -- it'll have to be.

A tiny treasure lost, not even the handles, the frames, the fleshless skeleton or nerves, any longer findable. Nothing here but a geriatric and toothless ghost of a dog, that can't even bring me my slippers, much less my slippery memories.

And so my career -- the only thing left besides Gary to make life bearable, much less worth living -- is shotgunned away piecemeal, in careless ignorance. So it goes in the waning months. So it goes.

Before, as Peter Pan, I did not age; stayed young and beautiful at the cost of stasis. Now the implacable end point of the Great Book Deadline in the Sky looms and zooms toward my terrified face. While relentlessly -- one minute-per-minute -- the magic charm, the boundary of Shangri-La, the portrait in the attic have been breached, lost.

My life has been a struggle against injustice and loss.

Was it not the injustices that impelled me to such accomplishments as I've made? Without loss, would I have been motivated to write this book, or any other? Does most communication arise out of the effort to articulate pain, to get people to stop causing it or worsening it?

As a journalist, I've forgotten how to write anything but horror stories; so to be an interesting memoirist, I had to live a horror story. It's the price I have to pay for trying to get success on the cheap. I tried to write without going out and doing research into the details of real life. In the process I acquired an astonishing variety of experiences, much dearer bought but more valuable than what I'd tried to get without paying.

I managed to prove in my final and true career what I'd proven in each of the dead ends and alleys -- by the legendary arduousness of science, the hair-raising edge to hustling and drug dealing. I proved that I was able to do absolutely anything, including getting out of work, in the absolutely hardest way on the planet. And you know, for years, I somehow figured this proved I was smart.

So now I've become smart or lucky enough to be unable to do anything but write. I face no choice but to make a success of it or die and be forgotten like last year's used book drive. Or tomorrow's fishwrap.

It's the nearest I've come to death, and the closest to immortality.

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